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What is a Retail Bond?

Investing In Retail Bonds Overview


Mr Bond says... "Corporate bonds
are those issued by a company
whereas gilt-edged securities - 'gilts' - are
bonds issued by a government."
What is a Retail Bond?
A Bond is simply an 'IOU' in which an investor agrees to loan money to an
individual, company or government in exchange for a predetermined interest
rate.
There will come a time when most companies will wish to raise capital to fund any one of a number of business
objectives which could include expansion, diversification or acquisition.
Alternatively, a business could seek to change its debt structure to either pay off more expensive loans, or reduce
its dependence upon, for example, bank finance.
In such circumstances a range of options exist to the Finance Director which may include 'equity financing' - the
issuing of additional shares via a rights issue or the issuing of 'preference' shares - or 'debt financing' via the issue
of a whole range of bonds, debentures, deposits, notes or commercial paper.
These products are collectively known as 'debt securities' and differ according to term to maturity and other
characteristics.
Additional options open to a potential issuer of debt securities include retaining profits within a business or
traditional sources of borrowing; a balanced strategy would typically include a combination of a number of these
techniques.
For the sake of differentiation, corporate bonds are those issued by a company whereas gilt-edged securities - 'gilts'
- are bonds issued by a government.
The current difficulty that companies, and particularly
SMEs, are experiencing in securing loans from banks
highlights the attraction of achieving a balance in terms
of a company's borrowing in order to avoid over-
dependence upon a single source.
How it works
When an investor - an individual, a pension fund or mutual fund agrees to loan money to a company, it does so at
an agreed rate of interest.
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The company pledges to repay the sum it borrows on an agreed date - the 'maturity' of the bond - and to pay
interest to the investor at an agreed rate - the 'coupon' - either annually or biannually, for the duration of the loan.
Because the investor knows what rate of interest he will achieve, these are often known as fixed-income
investments.
The rate that a company, or indeed a state, needs to pay to achieve borrowing is based upon its financial strength
and stability and the risk that is inherent within its business; as with most investments, the greater the risk, the
greater the return, so it is absolutely vital that a potential 'lender' (investor) understands as much as he can about
an individual investment before taking the plunge.
Because of the very large minimum investment previously required, corporate bonds have traditionally really only
been accessible to institutional investors and the preserve of pension funds and mutual funds.
However, in February 2010 the London Stock Exchange (LSE) launched the Order Book for Retail Bonds (ORB)
with the objective of making a new generation of retail bonds accessible to the retail investor and providing liquidity
in the secondary market for those that did not wish to hold the investment to maturity.
The ORB initiative
Fixed-income markets across Europe are very strong, and the LSE has high hopes that the ORB will mirror this
success. By way of context, 3.5 billion has been raised on ORB to date, whereas Borsa Italiana's MOT Market
trades up to 5 billion a day.
The UK Government has supported the ORB initiative which has manifested itself in the fact that retail bonds do not
attract stamp duty and in theory a minimum investment of 1 can be made.
In a typical relationship the borrower or 'issuer' will appoint a lead manager to structure each offer and then promote
it to potential purchasers - either individuals or wealth managers.
"Bonds are issued at par of 100, equivalent to the value of the loan at maturity, and may
trade at a discount or premium to this figure in the secondary market in response to a
number of factors including fluctuating interest rates, the relative strength of the issuer and
demand for the bond"
The offer will customarily be open for two weeks and made available via a network of authorised distributors,
offering a range of discretionary, advisory and execution only services. At the end of the offer period, the lead
manager will collate the orders that have been placed via the distributors and 'settle' the issue effectively allocating
bonds to those that have applied.
Bonds are issued at par of 100, equivalent to the value of the loan at maturity, and may trade at a discount or
premium to this figure in the secondary market in response to a number of factors including fluctuating interest
rates, the relative strength of the issuer and demand for the bond.
Clearly the price that a bond trades at affects the value of the coupon that is paid a 5% coupon paid on a bond
issued at par will not represent 5% if the bond trades at 103 so investors are advised to consider the "running
yield", which is a snapshot of the current price of the bond compared with the interest paid, and the "gross
redemption yield", which shows you how much you'll earn if you hold it to maturity.
With initial launches coming from the financial services sector with issuers such as Tesco Personal Finance, Lloyds
TSB and Provident Financial Group, subsequent offers have come from a diverse range of sectors such as oil with
EnQuest and a range of property companies including Primary Health Properties, CLS Holdings and St Modwen
Group; the LSE itself raised 300 million in October 2012 and proved the strength of its franchise by doing so at a
coupon of less than 5% - a level that is considered a psychological threshold.
Education and Information
Throughout this microsite Retail Bond Expert aims to provide education and information to those considering the
purchase of retail bonds in their portfolio, or greater understanding to those who may have had retail bonds
purchased on their behalf.
Mr Bond says... "Investors should
always ensure that they fully
understand the structure and inherent risks
attached to any investment they may
consider and should take advice appropriate
to their experience and knowledge of
investments.."
Investors should always ensure that they fully understand the structure and inherent risks attached to any
investment they may consider and should take advice appropriate to their experience and knowledge of
investments.
Greater insight and context into the retail bond sector can be gleaned from the commentary section of this site with
expert opinion from investors, fixed-income professionals and industry commentators
Expanded upon elsewhere, there are a number of key
factors to be considered regarding retail bonds: Firstly,
as with any investment, retail bonds expose the
purchaser to an element of risk, and in the extreme
instance of an issuer going bust, some or all of an
investment into bonds in the business could be lost.
A would be purchaser should look at the historical
performance of the issuer, the prospects for the market
in which it operates and its long term business plan.
Equally important is to understand the precise nature of the bond that is on offer - the terms loyalty bonds, private
placings, cash bonds and mini-bonds are being used interchangeably, and increasingly collectively described as
retail bonds despite the fact that they may vary greatly in terms of their debt structure, protections and risk profiles
(See Caveat Emptor Mr Bond Urges Caution When Purchasing Retail Bonds - Retail Bond Expert 7th
June 2013)
A further consideration is whether or not a bond or its issuer is rated there is currently no industry standard to
allow the objective comparison of retail bonds. Retail Bond Expert campaigns for the introduction of set criteria and
standardised key information documents, and is heartened by a recent announcement by issuer group ORBIG that
paves the way for a traffic light system to aid comparison (ORBIG Predicts Green Light for Independent
Ratings Retail Bond Expert 24th June 2013).
Secured or unsecured?
Retail Bond Expert produces a micro site such as this in support of each retail bond launch in an identical format
to allow users to become familiar with the supporting documentation that is available would be investors should
ensure that they have read the prospectus, terms and conditions and key information documents before committing
to a purchase.
One vitally important piece of information, and one that allows like-for-like comparison, is whether or not the loan is
secured against the assets of the issuing company, and where the bond sits in terms of the overall debt structure of
the business; whilst loans secured against tangible assets would seem the most attractive, some that are
unsecured may be contractually "senior" to other unsecured debt meaning their holders would have a priority in a
bankruptcy of the issuer. Debt that is not senior is described as "subordinated".
Whilst not as dramatic as insolvency, the recent restructuring at Co-op Bank highlights the need for diligence when
considering an investment; up to 7,000 investors, many pensioners, in the banks Permanent Interest Bearing
Shares (PIBS which share many characteristics with retail bonds) suffered a dramatic reduction in income and
capital loss as the small print on the product allowed the issuer to convert them to shares as part of its restructuring
following a bailout. (CO-OP Bank Bailout Confirms the Need for Caution - Retail Bond Expert 19th June
2013)
If the worst were to happen and the issuer was to go bust, there is no protection available for investors from the
Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) (Government Protection for Retail Bond Investors?
Retail Bond Expert 23rd January 2013)
The use of retail bonds as part of an investment strategy is considered on this site, and a key feature of retail bonds
is that by being typically offered for seven years duration, they can be held within tax-efficient SIPP and ISA
wrappers subject to existing subscription limits.
As ever, would-be investors should always seek appropriate advice.
With interest rates historically low, and showing little sign of increasing, savers and investors have increasingly
been attracted to the relatively high rates of return and capital protection offered by retail bonds and it is now
estimated that around 3.4billion is invested in these products in the UK.
However, interest-starved savers and investors have increasingly been attracted to companies with which they may
be less familiar and Retail Bond Expert is committed to delivering the information and education that both self-
directed investors and advisers require to make informed investment decisions.
Tel: 02031024118
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